Have you ever noticed a thing that happens sometimes, where people apply rules to someone else but never follow through them themselves? As if the rules that bind others do not concern themselves. You may see this while driving, people ignoring the rules and doing whatever they want while cursing someone doing the same thing or something else that break the rules. It’s no hard either, human mind being so easily bent to believe two or more opposite things to the point of mental breakdown. We’re natural beings like that in mind, we don’t have binary in our brains. Chromosomes, sure. This is why it isn’t hard to believe James L. Brooks came out few days ago that he doesn’t believe in any kind of book burning, but is burning his own book by removing the episode Stark Raving Dad from The Simpsons. Not just from syndication, it will not be present in any future re-release or digital service. It’ll be gone, poof, burned from history.
This coincides with the documentary Leaving Neverland from HBO, which once more covers sexual assault allegations made against the late Michael Jackson in 1993, who played a major voice role in the episode. At the time, the episode was a big deal. Nobody truly knew if it was Jackson or someone else, but this episode opened a whole new door for The Simpsons with guest voice actors, for better or worse. Usually for the worse. Hopefully this won’t lead into anything other similar actions, especially considering the role The King of Pop had on music and culture at large. He was an icon, an important one more ways than one, but this ain’t the blog for that.
The question is; Does Brooks have the right to burn a chapter from his book? Almost thirty years after the fact, legally yes. Culturally and ethically, no. The same question that followed Star Wars’ Special Editions should apply here. If we count television series like The Simpsons as a form of art, this is willful destruction of art, something that most would argue against. Except if its art portraying opposite political ideology or people, then there are a lot of people who would rather destroy art just to forget the past and repeat it in the future. At what point does art belongs to the audience, the culture at large? Nowadays it seems never, as big corporations and people like Brooks seems to considering things in terms of fame and money only. Then again, that’s what matters to them, who cares if one episode of a long running series is removed, right? It’ll still make money.
But if we’re really going follow Brook’s mindset, why just stop with Stark Raving Dad? Back in 1995 Kelsey Grammer was charged for sexual assault on a 15-years old girl, but the jury refused to indict him based on lacking evidence. Larry King was accused of groping Terry Richard’s. Dustin Hoffman has allegations on him for harassing a 17-years old intern. Aerosmith as a band probably can gather more stuff together than most visiting actors, seeing how Steven Tyler once had a 14-years old girlfriend, whom of he had guardianship over. Wade Boggs was accused of being a racist. Jose Canseco was accused of sexual assault in Las Vegas. Probably most of the sports stars visiting the show have some baggage. Not even the series creator Matt Groening has escaped some kind of mud, as he was sued for discrimination. In future, there will be more cases that allege something towards someone in the cast.
Does it matter that some of these are confirmed, some just allegations and some deemed untrue? Doesn’t matter if we go Brook’s rules. The case against Jackson was settled, and the agreement specifically stated that there was no wrongdoing. There was never enough solid evidence to charge Jackson, and the only person who had a word stopped cooperating with the police after the settlement. You can’t bribe people not to testify, so if he had been sitting in the stand based on the charges, he would’ve had to tell what he knew. According to the grand juries, none of the witnesses had seen enough proof to implicate Jackson on anything. Even in the further cases in 2003, he was found to be guiltless to all charges in 2005. However, despite him being freed of all charges, Jackson’s name was pulled through the mud, his career damaged, Sega stopped working with him (this affected production of Sonic the Hedgehog 3), franchise agreements were cancelled and the man never really recovered.
Is one of the best episodes of The Simpsons so little worth, that a documentary, a defaming one at that against a dead man, is enough to have it pulled from the show? If so, then for what reason? Political correctness? All in all, it seems because he feels convinced by the HBO documentary of Jackson’s guilt. That is his call. Documentaries are always with a perspective, usually that of the maker. Very rarely you see an objective documentary that makes balanced arguments on all sides. It’s easier and more profitable to make something sensational. Watching a documentary is like reading a news article in that the viewer needs to analyse what’s been show and in what way, what is not shown and why, how things are shot and what sort of manipulative elements are presented e.g. in background music selection and colour hues used.
But the deed is done. We’re going to lose one of the best animated episodes of television to date, saved only by previous releases. However, I did hear a familiar face musing that this might’ve been Brooks just having a good time to pull out the episode, that they wouldn’t need to pay the Jackson estate any further, but no reports of this has come out.
Maybe this would be time to ask the usual question if we are able, or if we should, separate art from the artist. After all, the content itself is not the creator. Can we diminish the value of pieces of art and products if their creator, any of them, suddenly is found to have done something objectionable? Roman Polanski might be the best known case, where court found him guilty of sexual child abuse. Perhaps this is one of those times where we find ourselves making use of that human duality, allotting rule breaks for others while expecting rest to follow them perfectly.
It’s a shame, that’s all I can personally say. Such a waste.